A Plea for Optimism

A version of this article was subsequently published on The Huffington Post.

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The Trumpocalypse is upon us. If you are among the Orange One’s supporters, congratulations; your guy won. In the words of a Facebook friend, I hope he’s as great as you think he is. For the sake of civility, I will assume that you had rational reasons for selecting him, and were not driven by hatred of women, non-Whites, or foreigners.If you are, like me, horrified by the proposition of four years of Trump-style Republican rule of the White House, Senate and House of Representatives, these are dark days. My social media feed is alive with expressions of doom and Apocalyptic despair. Professional friends in the USA are unironically looking for opportunities in supposedly more progressive countries, like Canada and New Zealand. And pointless (in my opinion) mass demonstrations have erupted in large American cities.

I get it. There’s a sense that President Trump will roll back all of the progressive initiatives that President Obama worked so hard to bring Americans. There will likely be fast action to repeal Obamacare, to de-fund agencies offering reproductive services to women, to further drain the treasury by implementing deep tax cuts, and some vicious and Draconian efforts to hunt down undocumented immigrants and, frankly, to terrorize non-White newcomers.

Longer term, Trump and Pence are in a position to appoint several new Supreme Court members, essentially giving US government and society a right-leaning bias for the next generation. What this means for landmark decisions, like Roe vs Wade, is uncertain. But fear and trepidation are understandable feelings for many Americans today (the majority, based upon the popular vote).

I am a foreigner, a Canadian. So the domestic policies of a US President do not directly affect me. It is, however, worth pointing out that ultra-Right actors here in Canada were quick to celebrate the Trump victory, former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and fascistic Conservative leader wannabe Kelley Leitch prime among them:

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While the US President’s domestic policies might not affect me directly, his or her foreign policies have profound effects on my life, hence I feel I justified in expressing my opinion on the election results in another country.
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As a foreigner, the prospect of a President Hillary Clinton did not fill me with joy. While I think she would have ushered in an era of incredible policy progress that would have positively built upon the best aspects of Obama’s proudest domestic initiatives, in terms of foreign policy, she is, in my opinion, as hawkish as the Bush-Cheney regime. And that filled me with concern.

A Hillary Clinton Presidency, in my view, would have resulted in more sustained, news-unworthy military actions abroad, in essence a return to Cold War geopolitical engineering strategies.

A Trump Presidency, on the other hand, might result in wanton nuking of random targets. Or a partnership with Russia against the wrong side in Syria. Or maybe nothing at all. No one knows. A Trump Presidency fills me with dread, largely because of the competing forces of his egregious claims and his status as a complete unknown with no policy track record.

So, with my hesitations and biases thus lain bare, allow me to put forward a brief argument for hesitating optimism. The Trump Presidency is going to be a reality. We need to accept it. Here’s how I’m getting through it.

  1. Science Policy (more accurately, Space Policy)

Talk about clinging to the barest of silver linings.  As with almost all of his platform, Trump’s position on science is vague. And certainly it stands to reason that he is likely to gut environmental programs and earth sciences surveillance programs.

But taking space policy as a case example, the Trump verbiage aligns somewhat well with the ethic of pure scientists. While Clinton would have mirrored Obama’s position of requiring all funded programs to be mapped onto social priorities, Trump’s position seems to be to allow space scientists to dictate the scope of their investigation, regardless of whether the outcomes and outputs of that investigation are immediately applicable to American life.

In fact, historically, Republican Presidencies are more closely correlated with increased research & development funding, across many scientific domains, than are Democratic Presidencies. The problem, of course, is that each party de-emphasizes fields that do not correspond with their political agendas. In the case of Republicans, this means a decrease of focus on environmental sciences.

2. Congressional Reform

Amazingly, Trump intends on introducing term limits to elected representatives in the House. I’m not sure what this would look like, but on its face this strikes me as a positive move toward more honest, responsive and representative government. Of course, there’s already a push-back, as Mitch McConnell has already declared that such reform “will not be on the agenda in the Senate.” But we will see.

3. He’s a Complete Unknown

Bear with me now. This argument is a bit of a stretch, but I’m doing my best.  With Hillary Clinton, given her long life in public service in the public eye, there would be no surprises regarding her intents, and tactics. She was a known quantity. For better or worse, we were pretty darn sure which of her claims would bear fruit, and which she had no intention or possibility of acting upon.

With Trump, all we have are his vague proclamations and the composition of his team. Now, to be honest, his proclamations are not altogether worrying. He will replace Obamacare with “something terrific”, for example. If he’s not full of shit, then…. cool.

On the other hand, his advisors are, almost to a person, monstrous. From Mike Pence to Ann Coulter, we have a strong track record of anti-woman and anti-immigrant venom and action. And from Omarosa to Katrina Pierson, we have a bewildering record of, frankly, nonsensical stupidity. When the shining star of your advisory team is Newt Gingrinch, for whom I defy anyone to identify a successful, game-changing idea, something is seriously wrong.

However, if you’re able to put aside the horrors of his rogue’s gallery, then the Trump Presidency is a blank slate. Trump himself has a public history of liberal behaviour. He’s not particularly religious, and clearly not a cultural conservative, despite his recent campaign-trail stance. So maybe… just maybe… his actual actions will reflect more his inclusive Manhattan lifestyle and not his backwater election pandering.

4. Some Historical Perspective

I’m an old man now. I’ve heard this end-of-the-world talk before. Maybe it’s different this time. Bill Maher and Seth MacFarlane think so:

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And I certainly see the temptation to see the rise of Trump, especially in the wake of his unprecedented divisive election tactics, as the anointing of a true tyrant, a leader with dictatorial ambitions, who has not hidden his open disdain for a large segment of the population he purports to lead.

However, this is a plea for optimism. So let me say that I was a very young man of 13 when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. But I was politically aware enough to understand the ramifications of Reagan’s conservative, hawkish policies. We had just had four years of Carter progressivism, and I had just met the first Prime Minister Trudeau.

When Reagan was elected, deep in the latter days of the Cold War, I was utterly convinced that World War III would start before his term was over in 1984. I was sure post-nuclear Apocalypse would befall me before my 20th birthday.

I was wrong.

When Bush Jr was “elected” the first time in 2000, I thought it would be business as usual, my political cynicism was so well entrenched. Bill Clinton, after all, was, to my mind, a right-leaning Democrat or a left-leaning Republican; I couldn’t see much difference. Why would Bush be any different?

I was wrong. He was a nightmare.

When Bush Jr was re-elected in 2004, I was sure the world had gone mad. How could the American electorate reward an anti-civil liberty stance, scaremongering, torture, and blatant abuses of the vaunted Constitution? Surely, the path to fascism had been joined.

I was wrong. Bush’s second term was horrible. But it wasn’t the end of the world.

Well, Trump probably won’t be the end of the world, either. I hope.

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